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Medicare Bill

December 7, 2003

The Prescription Drug Bill: Aid to Seniors or a Threat to Medicare?
On Monday December 8, President Bush signed into law a bill providing the most sweeping changes to the nation’s health care system since Medicare’s creation in 1965. The bill would provide billions in prescription drug benefits to some senior citizens. It also would provide billions of dollars in corporate welfare to a wide variety of corporate health-care providers to help them compete with the government in providing Medicare. Unlike the private companies, however, Medicare would be prohibited from negotiating lower drug rates for seniors under its care thus ensuring that it cannot compete in the free market with the private companies.

The bill was extremely controversial. In the House of Representatives, after an extraordinary coalition of 90% of Democrats and 15% of Republicans voted the bill down, the Republican Leadership which controls the House refused to accept the vote and ordered the presiding officer not to bang down the gavel at the end of the allotted fifteen-minute voting period. The vote count was kept open all night long as President Bush desperately lobbied Congressmen in the middle of the night to change their votes. Finally, just before 6 am, the Republicans had persuaded enough Republican Members of Congress to change their votes from “no” to “yes” to have the margin they needed, and the gavel was brought down on the longest House vote in U.S. history.
Why were such heroic efforts (or legislative shenanigans, depending on your view) necessary to pass prescription drug benefits, which are supported by the clear majority of Congress? Why did the Republicans propose a bill that almost failed rather than a bill that would have had overwhelming bipartisan support?
Supporters, like the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) argue their members support the bill because it provides substantial benefits to a number of seniors. You can read more on their position at
Opponents, like the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) argue the bill will lead to the dismantling of Medicare. You can read more on their position at
You can hear the inside scoop from both sides — a representative of AARP and one from NCPSSM — as to what this legislation would do for senior citizens and for drug companies. I invite you to call in or email me with comments or questions for my guests.

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